Some Indian Startups Make a Fine Union Between Brand Relevance and Customer Loyalty

A brand must be useful to as many consumers as possible; if it isn’t, then it must change business model to be more useful, relevant [and indispensable]

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Customer is king and is opinionated royalty. A recent survey conducted to evaluate what consumers think about startup brands have been surprisingly skewed towards product utility, highlighting how consumers care for brands only as long as they are relevant in their day to day lives.

The only choice before a startup caring for survival then is to pivot, somersault, twist and pirouette into a business model that can ensure continued relevance. This finding comes from a survey held by, a platform which rewards users for candid feedback on advertisements, for the recently held SuperStartUps Summit 2018. 

During the exercise, Users rated a brand on four parameters: uniqueness, creativity, relevance, and delivery. The survey revealed that respondents found “relevance and recall” of a startup to be the most important mark of brand loyalty. PhonePe, a winner at the event seems to have understood this.

Rituraj Rautela, head of its in-app store at PhonePe said, “Our goal is to be as useful to as many people as possible. Payment gateways have universal appeal and PhonePe sees much more it can do to gain more users.” Currently PhonePe has about 65 million users; signing up to become a UPI player, even payments interface was in the paper stage, has paid off in a big way, according to Rautela. It reported 42.4 million transaction via UPI in April 2018 worth Rs 8100 crore.

The app’s entrance into other countries may be a bit far off, given the Walmart acquisition of its parent company Flipkart Group is under process, engaging Walmart’s SME merchant base too may be some time off, despite building media interest on the topic. PhonePe’s current objective is to promote an array of in-app services. From enabling third party wallets like those of Jio, to allowing bus ticket purchase from RedBus, to allowing purchase of gold, PhonePe appears to be working on doing exactly what Paytm does as far as a consumer sees it, with the exception that a consumer would be purchasing from RedBus directly and PhonePe simple enables the payment transaction.

For PhonePe and other winners of the event like Droom (online auto marketplace), Clovia (online lingerie marketplace) or for Netmeds (online pharmacy) the internet is their medium to engage with consumers. No other startup is aiding further adoption of these ecommerce businesses than startups like Yaantra. Yaantra refurbishes and sells smartphones. It’s a market growing at 20-25 percent CAGR (faster than the market for brand new phones). Yaantra’s Cofounder CEO Jayant Jha says they sell as many smartphones as they refurbish. “Every month we refurbish around 50,000 phones, which is about 30-35 percent cheaper than an original phone, and can be used for 18-24 months”. The startup has acquired new facilities with capacity to refurbish 100,000 phones a month and considering CAGR, thinks it will be at serving at capacity by the end of the year or so.

Yaantra has recently expanded into phone repairing to keep the revenue motors churning. The phone repair unit brings in more sales while refurbishing brings in volume of orders. Catering to customer needs, they now offer authorized phone repair services issued with warranty at customer door step, all in 30 minutes.

Such pivoting and creativity in tweaking a business model is important for survival concluded Shivjeet Kullar, council leader of SuperStartUps. “Anyone can say, boss, you raised ten million dollars, but you raised it at the wrong time, and by the by, why did you start doing X, Y, or Z in your business? Not a good idea.” I say to them, “Boss, I survived…at the end of the day that’s what matters.”

As Kullar puts it, SuperStartUp is a badge honouring a startup’s valiant efforts to survive, validated by a consumer vote.

The competition focuses on startups in Asia and is judged not by a panel of industry experts but by consumers from India and neighbouring countries. 40 percent of users surveyed were female, 60 percent were male. The age brackets covered a largely youthful population from 18 to 40 which constituted 73 percent of the respondents. 76 percent of respondents were from metro areas and 24 percent from non-metro areas.

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